While it’s not at all unusual to think of independent filmmaking and DIY album recording, for some reason, just the very idea of a homegrown family-run opera house seems a little bizarre. Maybe it’s because of all the pretension and snobbery usually associated with the opera and especially its patrons. Yet, for nearly fifty years, the dynamic husband and wife team of Tony and Sally Amato staged full-blown opera productions out of their tiny Amato Opera House anachronistically located just down the street from the infamous punk club CBGB’s.
Director Stephen Ives’ affectionate portrait of this largely unheralded urban and cultural jewel accurately depicts what it takes to keep such a high quality operation alive on such a shoestring budget. It reveals the endless recycling of costumes, wardrobes, and set pieces, shines a gratifying spotlight on the performers’ and stagehands’ ability to wear more than one hat without an ego, and honors the sense of teamwork and feeling of family such an effort builds.
Yet, more than simply a film about a struggling and beloved cultural institution, “Amato: A Love Affair with Opera” is also a loving tribute to the couple responsible for building the opera in the first place. We learn how Tony and Sally both came from blue collar backgrounds and stumbled onto opera by accident. Tony, the feisty and passionate dynamo of the two, asked Sally, then a lovely vocalist, to marry him on their first date. Theirs has been that rarest of storybook romances ever since.
Perhaps the best description of this cramped three story brownstone comes from a performer who shrewdly describes the space as “a big opera as seen when looking through the wrong end of a telescope.” Featuring gushing testimonials from devoted members of the company, as well as unabashedly enthusiastic endorsements and words of praise from a number of opera critics and hotshot Metropolitan Opera veterans, “Amato…” provides a well-rounded, down to earth glimpse of the Amato Opera House in action. Complete with candid behind the scenes video clips, this well-done film pays deserved homage to a cultural gem that operates both on the fringe, yet somehow still at the vital core, of the opera world.